24 July 2003, Volume 2, Number 26
FIGHTING ON THE PAKISTANI-AFGHAN BORDER COULD ESCALATE INTO WARBy J.M. Ledgard
The Afghan border guard passed along the binoculars he borrowed from a village elder. "There," he said, "up among the trees." A white tent came into focus on the Baba-Da'ud mountain peak. It was a Pakistani Army position, dug into what Afghans take to be Afghanistan. In other words, a possible excuse for a war.
Elders in the impoverished village of Tutkai, in the shadow of Baba-Da'ud, are eager to push the Pakistanis -- they say Punjabis -- "back to Peshawar." According to tribal elders, 600 of the villagers, mostly drawn from the Khujakhil tribe, stormed the mountain on 30 June in an attempt to clear out the Pakistanis. They were armed only with antique British rifles. At least two of their number, the elders said, were cut down and killed by Pakistani fire. Another 10 were wounded, some severely.
There have been numerous skirmishes on this wild stretch of mustard-colored mountains separating Nangrahar Province from the Pakistani tribal agencies in the North West Frontier Province -- the result of the poorly drawn Durand Line border laid down by the British in 1893 to divide the Pashtun tribes. But Afghans here say they have never seen the Pakistani Army so close and so aggressive.
A steep climb up the face of Baba-Da'ud brings the surprised Pakistani soldiers into view. There are perhaps 30 men in the billowing caramel uniforms of the Pakistani Army and the frontier guard, a dozen tents, heavy machine guns, and 82 mm mortars dug in and aimed into Afghanistan.
The Pakistani soldiers said they had arrived at the ridge line less than a month ago and were part of a 1200 strong force which had taken up positions overlooking --and in some cases well inside --Afghanistan.
A soldier serving in Pakistani Army intelligence, speaking without the authority of his commanding officer, said that the camp was purely defensive in nature. He believed it sat just behind the Durant Line, inside what he took to be Pakistan (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 17 July 2003).
"You see, terrorists have certain habits," the sergeant said. "If you close one part of the border they will try and open a new one. That's what we are doing here. Setting a trap to catch them."
Local Afghans are incensed at what they see as a Pakistani invasion -- and at the Pakistani claim to be sealing the border against terrorists. "There is no Al-Qaeda in these parts," said Mohammed Rahim, a 70-year old head of Khuizi village, which he believes lies some way inside Afghanistan. "Pakistanis are tricky people," he said. "They have tricked Bush and now they'll catch us by the neck."
Rahim says he has also sent men to fight the Pakistanis. Three were killed by mortar fire, several others were sent to hospitals in Jalalabad and Kabul with shrapnel wounds. "Pakistan is strong while we have no guns, no bullets. But it is our duty and policy to fight with them," he said.
Fighting has been constant in places along the 64 kilometer long front for the last two weeks, according to Zaher Qadir, the regional commander of the Afghan border patrol, in Jalalabad. Qadir said his men had dug in and occupied 30 new checkposts along the front, manned by a force of at least 500 men.
The mobilization has been rapid. All the Pakistani and Afghan positions have been dug in over the last month. The Pakistanis are strengthening their positions daily with more men and guns, according to Qadir. He said his men have engaged Pakistani soldiers several kilometers inside the Durand Line. The Pakistanis had retreated from some of the bunkers they had dug inside undisputed Afghanistan but under heavy fire from his soldiers, he said, but several illegal Pakistani positions remained.
Khair Rahman commands a remote Afghan border guard post in the desert below Baba-Da'ud. He has been fighting half of his life. He says he is tired of war. He has almost nothing at his disposal. His 80 men are hungry, pathetically armed, and chafing for a fight. A dozen of them broil under a makeshift thatched shelter. An assortment of Soviet-era munitions are piled in a fly-infested mud hut nearby. The men have not been paid in 18 months. Vehicles are a problem. No matter, said Rahman, a 35-year-old veteran of the battle of Tora Bora. "We have spent all our life walking on the mountains and in the desert."
"Of course the fight will happen," he added. "All Afghan boys are ready to push the Pakistanis back."
The fighting along the border is putting the government of Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai in an awkward position. The UN and the U.S. are pleading caution and compromise. But nationalist feeling among ordinary Afghans is running high.
The tripartite commission of U.S., Afghan, and Pakistani officials will give Karzai a little breathing space. It has agreed to travel the frontline and report swiftly back. But the commission will not address the central complaint of Afghans on the ground. That is, whether Pakistanis should be allowed to take up strategic positions along the Durand Line, which would be difficult for Afghans to dislodge in a war. Nor does the tripartite commission offer Karzai anything which he can sell to Afghans, most of whom believe that it is Pakistan, not Afghanistan, which should be issuing apologies and retreating.
Karzai said recently that he hoped for a civilized relationship with Pakistan but emphasized that Afghanistan would no longer tolerate Pakistani aggression. Karzai said he felt betrayed by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. Relations between the two men have deteriorated badly since Pakistan sealed a new aid package with the United States. Karzai and other senior officials also appear perplexed at the mixed signals coming out of the U.S. administration. A senior aide to Karzai told RFE/RL that it will be impossible to secure stability for Afghanistan unless the U.S. pressures Pakistan into a withdrawal of its soldiers from the border region. The aide, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that Musharraf had clearly used U.S. support as a cover to move into the lawless Mohmand tribal agency, which it has never properly governed. Karzai must take a nationalist line, the aide believes. Anything else would isolate him, perhaps dangerously, from ordinary Afghans and from his powerful backers in the Loya Jirga (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 11 July 2003).
J.M. Ledgard is a journalist who covers Afghanistan and a freelancer for RFE/RL.
FOUR AFGHANS ARRESTED IN CONNECTION WITH STORMING OF PAKISTAN'S EMBASSY...Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali announced on 17 July that four men have been arrested in connection with the 8 July storming of the Pakistani Embassy in Kabul (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 11 July 2003), Hindukosh news agency reported. Jalali said the four men, who were among some 2,000 protestors who reportedly stormed the embassy, admitted causing damage to the embassy. Jalali described the action as enmity toward Afghanistan, not Pakistan. Jalali did not provide the identities of the suspects, but said they "came [to the embassy] with violent intentions," and noted that the demonstration was held without the permission of his ministry or security forces, the BBC reported on 17 July. Afghan authorities on 9 July claimed the mob that stormed the embassy was primarily composed of students from a local nursing school and that the director of the school had been arrested. Pakistan's Ambassador to Afghanistan Rostam Shah Mohmand responded that the arrest of only one person was "totally unacceptable." (Amin Tarzi)
...AND AFGHANISTAN PAYS COMPENSATION...The Afghan Transitional Administration on 17 July paid 2.8 million afghanis ($56,000) to the Pakistani Embassy in Kabul to compensate for damages to the embassy building and equipment resulting from the 8 July incident, Radio Afghanistan reported. The Afghan Foreign Ministry said the country fulfilled its responsibility in paying for the damages, for which Pakistan had demanded compensation (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 11 July 2003). (Amin Tarzi)
...LEADING TO PAKISTAN REOPENING ITS EMBASSY IN KABUL.The Pakistani Embassy in Kabul reopened on 21 July, the BBC reported. The embassy was shut down after approximately 2,000 protestors stormed the compound on 8 July following reports that Pakistani forces had made incursions inside Afghan territory. The Afghan Transitional Administration has since paid compensation for damages, apologized, and arrested four people in connection with the incident (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 11 July 2003). However, Pakistani Ambassador to Afghanistan Rostam Shah Mohmand said the number of people arrested is not sufficient, adding that his country will insist that the people who "conceived and planned and gave orders" for the attack should also be taken into custody. The reopening of the embassy signals a positive step toward the improvement of the states' recently strained relations. However, the core issue of the dispute -- Afghan claims that Pakistan is interfering in its international affairs -- remains to be resolved. (Amin Tarzi)
PAKISTANI SPOKESMAN SAYS BORDER TENSION WITH AFGHANISTAN UNDER CONTROL...Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Masood Khan said on 21 July that there was a "situation" on the Afghan-Pakistani border "but now it is under control," AP reported. Khan said there was no incursion on the part of Pakistani forces, and added that the tripartite commission comprising Afghan, Pakistani, and U.S. representatives will soon visit the Mohmand tribal areas to investigate the situation (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 17 July 2003). "All channels of communication at all level[s] are open," Khan said in reference to Kabul-Islamabad relations, adding that both countries understand the need to resolve issues that occasionally arise. (Amin Tarzi)
...AS AFGHAN SPOKESMAN QUESTIONS NEW INCURSION INTO AFGHANISTAN BY PRO-TALIBAN FORCES.Transitional Administration spokesman Ahmad Jawayd Lodin said on 21 July that the perpetrators of a 19 July attack on a coalition convoy crossed the Afghan-Pakistani border in broad daylight, Reuters reported. Nine coalition soldiers were wounded (see items below) and 22-24 pro-Taliban fighters, or neo-Taliban, were killed in the ensuing fighting near Spin Boldak. Without naming Pakistan directly, Lodin said forces loyal to the former Taliban regime in Afghanistan "have to have their base somewhere. They have to get their resources, their materials, their equipment from somewhere." Afghan government officials have maintained that elements within Pakistan's military are supporting neo-Taliban forces in an effort to undermine the Transitional Administration's authority. (Amin Tarzi)
AFGHAN MINISTER VISITS PAKISTAN TO SMOOTH RELATIONS.Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali met Pakistani officials on 23 July during his two-day visit to Islamabad that comes in the wake of recent tensions between the two countries, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 11 and 17 July 2003). Jalali met with Pakistan's Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali and was scheduled to hold talks with Pakistan's Interior Minister Faisal Saleh Hayat. Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Masood Khan said the two sides will discuss the contentious issue of the Afghan-Pakistani border. "The two sides will try to strengthen their coordination on matters relating to the internal security of both countries and coordination between all agencies for combating terrorism," he added. (Amin Tarzi)
MORE THAN 20 OPPOSITION FIGHTERS REPORTEDLY KILLED IN SPIN BOLDAK...U.S. military spokesman in Afghanistan Lieutenant Colonel Douglas Lefforge said on 20 July that U.S. forces killed 24 unidentified fighters in Spin Boldak, Kandahar Province, after they attacked a coalition convoy on 19 July, Reuters reported. Lefforge said that when the convoy came under attack it "requested close air support and engaged the enemy forces," killing some of the attackers. Attack helicopters subsequently strafed the area, killing more of the fighters. Lefforge said no U.S. soldiers were killed in the fighting. Sayyed Fazluddin Agha, the head of Spin Boldak district, said two government militiamen were killed, whereas witnesses said four pro-government militiamen were killed. The clash was the bloodiest incident in Afghanistan since 4 June, when nearly 50 fighters loyal to the former Taliban regime were killed in Spin Boldak (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 12 June 2003). (Amin Tarzi)
...AS FORMER TALIBAN OFFICIAL CLAIMS 20 PRO-GOVERNMENT CASUALTIES.Mulla Abdul Rauf, an official in the former Taliban regime, said in a telephone interview on 20 June that at least 20 pro-government soldiers were killed in the Spin Boldak clash, Reuters reported. Foreign Ministry official Khalid Achakzai said the fighting lasted for five hours and involved about 75 fighters led by former Taliban leaders, naming Mulla Abdul Razaq, Hafiz Abdul Rahim, and Mulla Abdul Rauf. It should be noted that on 31 March, Kandahar Province Governor Gol Agha Sherzai said that in operations carried out in Oruzgan Province, 13 members of the former Taliban regime were arrested, naming Mulla Abdul Razaq as one of them. Afghan government officials have in the past provided conflicting reports about clashes with forces they have described as "Taliban," possibly with the intention of covering up interfactional fighting (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 3 April 2003 and 3 July 2003). (Amin Tarzi)
...AND NINE COALITION TROOPS CONFIRMED INJURED IN THE ATTACK.U.S. military spokesman Colonel Rodney Davis said on 21 July that nine coalition soldiers were wounded in fighting between neo-Taliban and coalition forces in Spin Boldak on 19 July, Reuters reported. Davies also confirmed that 22-24 opposition fighters were killed, thus supporting earlier reports (see above). Mulla Abdul Samad, speaking on behalf of the Taliban, on 21 July refuted the validity of the number of Taliban casualties and called on the sources of the original figures to "show the bodies of these Taliban fighters." Davis said that after patrolling the scene on 20 July, U.S. soldiers and Afghan militia found "indicators of wounded enemy, including clothing, shoes, [and] discarded equipment." During the Soviet-Afghan conflict (1979-89) and the ensuing civil war, Afghans regularly provided exaggerated casualty figures, and to date there is no accurate account of the number of Afghans who perished during those conflicts. (Amin Tarzi)
THREE ITALIAN SOLDIERS INJURED IN LAND-MINE BLAST IN PAKTIA PROVINCE...Three Italian soldiers were injured on 20 June when a land mine detonated in front of their vehicle in Paktia Province, the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press reported. The mine was apparently set off by remote control, AFP reported on 20 July. About 500 Italian military personnel are serving with the U.S.-led antiterrorism coalition force in Afghanistan. (Amin Tarzi)
...AND MINE KILLS AFGHAN IN KABUL.An Afghan man was killed and another injured on 19 June when a land mine exploded as they dug a well in Kabul, Reuters reported. An official suggested the mine was laid during the factional fighting that destroyed much of the Afghan capital in the 1990s. (Amin Tarzi)
AFGHAN NATIONAL ARMY MAKES COMBAT DEBUT.Colonel Rodney Davis, spokesman for coalition forces in Afghanistan, said on 23 July that approximately 1,000 soldiers from the newly established Afghan National Army (ANA) participated in combat operations for the first time this week in Paktiya Province's Zormat District, Reuters reported. Davis said the ANA soldiers' mission in the operation is to "kill, capture, and deny sanctuary to anti-coalition fighters and to disrupt anti-coalition activity in the Zormat Valley region," in support of the Afghan Transitional Administration. He said the ANA's combat debut marks an important step toward the force's eventual role as a key contributor to Afghanistan's security. Thus far about 5,000 of the eventual 70,000 soldiers planned for the ANA by 2009 have been trained by the United States and France. However, the process of creating the new army has been hampered by power struggles within the Transitional Administration and by the refusal of warlords to submit to the central authorities. (Amin Tarzi)
KABUL DEMONSTRATION DEMANDS EQUAL RIGHTS, REFORMS, AND INDEPENDENT JUDICIARY.Approximately 300 people, most of whom have ties to the Freedom and Democracy Movement or the National and Islamic Movement, staged a rally in Kabul on 15 July to demands reforms within the Afghan Transitional Administration and the structure of the Afghan National Army, and the acceleration of the disarmament process, Hindukosh news agency reported. The demonstrators also demanded that the future Afghan constitution provide equal rights for men and women and called for conservative Supreme Court Chief Justice Fazl Hadi Shinwari to resign, accusing him of having links to former mujahedin parties. The protestors submitted an 11-point communique to the office of the United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan for consideration.
Some points of the communique are as follows:
1. We demand a constitution based on democratic principles, taking into account the accepted Afghan traditions.
2. Press freedom is a fundamental principle of democracy. We voice [our] support for freedom of the press and expression and for the policy of the Information and Culture Ministry and ask the public and the international community to support its improvement.
3. Based on the Bonn Agreement, we want timely implementation of the general disarmament program, formation of the national army and police, and elections under the auspices of the international community.
4. We want a just and independent judiciary, devoid of any extremist and factional inclinations or links.
5. We support human rights and the transitional justice commission. We hope that the dossiers of war criminals, national traitors, and those who plunder public wealth, to be prepared and presented to the courts.
6. We want an elected municipality [mayor] in order to eliminate administrative corruption.
7. The government employees receive very low salaries. We ask the government to collect national revenues from the provinces in order to meet its needs.
8. We support the historical speech [6 July] made by the Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamed Karzai and condemn foreign aggression (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 11 July 2003). (Amin Tarzi)
AFGHAN NEWSPAPER SAYS PEOPLE HAVE RIGHT TO SEE DRAFT CONSTITUTION.The Kabul paper "Farda" commented on 20 July that the "publication of the draft of the constitution is the right of the Afghans and nobody can ignore this." The paper asks how it is possible for people to present their opinions when they don't know what has been included in the draft constitution. The Constitutional Review Commission has yet to make the draft constitution public, and people's opinions on the shape of the future constitution are being gathered through the distribution of a questionnaire (see above item). "What will happen if the people remain uninformed of the details of the law?" "Farda" asks. What if "it is hastily approved by the Loya Jirga," which is scheduled for October, and eventually the people refuse to obey it? (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 16 January and 3, 10, and 24 April 2003). (Amin Tarzi)
GERMANY HANDS OVER ISAF COMMAND TO CANADA...In Kabul on 17 July, International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) commander Lieutenant General Norbert van Heyst handed over command of the multinational peacekeeping force to Canadian Brigadier General Peter Devlin, the ISAF announced. German Brigadier General Werner Freers had held the command since March. Germany is expected to gradually reduce its forces in Kabul from 2,600 soldiers to 1,500, and the Canadian contingent will increase to 1,800 soldiers by August. While Freers said he had an extraordinary experience leading the ISAF, he expressed regret for not being able to bring all of his soldiers back home, dpa reported on 17 July. Four German soldiers were killed in a 7 June suicide attack (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 12 June 2003). (Amin Tarzi)
...IN PREPARATION FOR NATO TAKEOVER...NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson said in Brussels on 16 July that the Atlantic alliance will remain in Afghanistan "until the job doesn't need to be done," AFP reported. Command of the ISAF is scheduled to be handed over to NATO on 11 August, dpa reported. Following a meeting in Brussels with Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, Robertson said that under Canadian command, the NATO-led ISAF will focus on maintaining security in Kabul and helping the Transitional Administration train its security forces. Robertson added that Afghanistan "may well be one of the toughest [missions] that we've taken on," but gave assurances that NATO is committed for the long term and does not "intend to fail" (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 20 December 2002). (Amin Tarzi)
...AND BRITISH PREMIER CALLS FOR MORE TROOPS FOR AFGHANISTAN...British Prime Minister Tony Blair in his 17 July address to the U.S. Congress said the responsibility of the countries fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq "does not end with military victory. Finishing the fighting is not finishing the job," the "Financial Times" reported on 18 July. "If Afghanistan needs more troops from the international community to police outside Kabul, our duty is to get them," Blair said, in an apparent allusion to the fact that the ISAF's area of responsibility is confined to Kabul and its immediate surroundings. Blair also noted that the country's opium cultivation causes problems not only in Afghanistan, but in Great Britain as well, and urged the congressmen to "let us help them eradicate their dependency on the poppy." (Amin Tarzi)
...AS GERMANY IS REPORTEDLY CONCERNED ABOUT EUROPEAN TROOP REDUCTION IN AFGHANISTAN...An unidentified high-ranking German official described as "very familiar with [Foreign Minister Joschka] Fischer's thinking" said in Washington on 16 July that Germany has "no intention to reduce" the number of its forces in Afghanistan, "The Washington Times," reported on 17 July. He said the ISAF faces problems because some European countries are pulling their forces out of Afghanistan as they deploy forces in Iraq. "We should carefully examine [the status of the NATO forces] in Afghanistan before we start calling NATO to different places," the official said in an apparent reference to Iraq. The daily noted that the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy, Denmark, and the Netherlands, all of which have troops in Afghanistan, have already sent troops to Iraq or have made commitments to do so. (Amin Tarzi)
...BUT PLANS TO REDUCE OWN MILITARY PRESENCE BY ONE-THIRD.A German Defense Ministry spokesman said on 19 July that his country plans to withdraw about 800 of its current 2,400 troops stationed in Afghanistan by September, dpa reported. The spokesman said the extra troops are not needed since Germany handed over the command of ISAF to Canada on 17 July. (Amin Tarzi)
ISSUES OF PRO-MUJAHEDIN PUBLICATION CONFISCATED FOR CRITICIZING AFGHAN LEADER...Copies of the latest issue of "Payam-e Mojahed" have been confiscated from the weekly's distributors, allegedly at the order of Defense Minister Marshall Mohammad Qasim Fahim, one of the publication's patrons, "Erada" reported on 20 July. According to the report, the issue, the date of which has not been reported, attacked Karzai as "powerless" and claimed the real power in Afghanistan rests with "the United States, Britain, and the United Nations." The article reportedly criticized Karzai's extension of an apology to Pakistan following the 8 July storming of the Pakistani Embassy in Kabul (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 11 and 17 July 2003). "Payam-e Mojahed" belongs to the Jamiat-e Islami party of which Fahim is a member. The weekly supports the role of former Afghan mujahedin in the current administration and is critical of people who have come from outside to assume leadership roles in the country. (Amin Tarzi)
...AS EDITOR IN CHIEF QUESTIONS AFGHAN LEADER'S PAKISTAN POLICY."Payam-e Mojahed" Editor in Chief Abdul Hafiz Mansur affirmed on 20 July that copies of his weekly, which included an article entitled "From Exaggeration to Reality," written by well-known Afghan political commentator Haqshenas, were "collected" by the Afghan authorities, Iranian state radio's Mashhad-based Dari service reported. Mansur defended the argument posed in Haqshenas's article, saying that while "an attack on the embassy of a foreign country is not in line with ethics and diplomatic principles," Karzai's government must "urge the Pakistani government to compensate for the damage caused by the war." He was apparently referring to Pakistan's support for the Taliban during the country's civil war. He also said the Transitional Administration must "put pressure on the Pakistani authorities to close the offices of the [Afghan] opposition in Pakistan." (Amin Tarzi)
FORMER AFGHAN WARLORD CHARGED IN LONDON.British police announced that Zardad Faryadi Sarwar will appear in court on 17 July to face multiple charges for acts of torture and kidnapping he allegedly committed while serving in the 1990s as a commander of a group of fighters in Sarubi, Kabul Province, RFE/RL reported. Sarwar, 40, was arrested on 16 July following an investigation by Scotland Yard's antiterrorism branch that involved sending detectives to Afghanistan to investigate and gather evidence, "The Independent" reported on 16 July. He arrived in the U.K. in the 1990s and requested asylum. The charges against Sarwar mark the first time the International Convention on Torture, which was incorporated into British law in 1988, has been employed by prosecutors. Sarwar's case might also prompt prosecutors in Britain and other European countries to bring charges against many members of Afghanistan's communist-era (1978-92) secret police and other warlords from the time of the civil war (1992-2001). (Amin Tarzi)
THIS WEEK IN AFGHANISTAN'S HISTORY22 July 1880 -- Britain recognizes Sardar Abdul Rahman as Amir of Kabul and its dependencies.
20 July 1963 -- Afghan consulates reopen in the Pakistani cities of Peshawar and Quetta. Communication reestablished on Afghan-Pakistani border.
17 July 1996 -- Sayyid Ahmad Gailani, leader of the National Islamic Front of Afghanistan, announces the creation of a new alliance to confront Burhanuddin Rabbani's rule in Kabul, which included Sebghatullah Mojaddidi, Abdul Rashid Dostum, Karim Khalili, Mohammad Nabi Mohammadi, and the Jalalabad (or Eastern) Shura, led by Haji Qadir.
Sources: "Historical Dictionary of Afghan Afghanistan" by Ludwig W. Adamec, (Lanham: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1997).